9 Reasons Why Athletes Should Eat More Beans

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Remember this jingle: "Beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot"?

The embarrassment associated with tooting explains why many athletes shy away from beans and legumes. But far more than being a musical fruit, beans can be a nutrient-rich bonus for a sports diet. Here's why:

1. Beans are a natural protein-carbohydrate combination. As an endurance athlete, you need carbs to fuel your muscles and protein to build and repair your muscles. A bean burrito, hummus wrap or bowl of chili is a great way to fuel-up or refuel from a hard workout.

2. Beans are a good source of plant protein. But take note: you need to consume generous portions of beans if you're a vegetarian. Runners need at least 10 grams of protein per meal to trigger muscular growth, and most athletes need at least 60 to 90 grams of protein per day. Half of a can of refried beans offers only 10 to 12 grams of protein, the amount of protein in one and a half eggs or a few bites of chicken. One spoonful (1/4 cup) of garbanzos on a salad offers only 3 grams of protein.

More: Why Beans Are Cycling's Magical Fruit

3. Beans have a low-glycemic index. This means they're slow to digest and offer sustained energy. Low GI foods are good choices before long endurance runs if you can't eat anything during the workout.

4. Beans are rich in vitamins and minerals. These include folate, manganese, potassium, iron, copper and magnesium, which help your body's engine run smoothly.

5. Beans are good for heart-health. The soluble fiber in beans helps protect against heart disease by lowering the cholesterol in your blood. Also, beans are naturally low in fat and dietary cholesterol, so replacing meats with beans is a heart-healthy swap.

6. Beans are high in fiber. They contain 7 to 8 grams fiber per half-cup. This sharply contrasts chicken or meat, which has no fiber. This fiber acts as a broom and assists with regular bowel movements. Snacking on hummus with baby carrots contributes 8 to 10 grams of fiber toward the recommended daily target of 25 to 35 grams.

More: Fuel Up With High-Fiber Foods at Breakfast

7. Beans are inexpensive. By enjoying bean-based meals, such as chili or lentil soup, you'll likely eat less animal protein and save money.

8. Bean-based meals are better for the environment than meat-based meals. If everyone were to eat one less meat meal a week, we'd need fewer beef cattle, which are major producers of greenhouse gasses. This could assist in the war against global warming.

More: Sustainable Food and Recipes for Athletes

9. Beans are good sources of fuel for the health-promoting bacteria that live in your gut. We each have about two to four pounds of gut bacteria that strongly influence our immune system. In fact, about 70 percent of our immune response is generated from the gut. The bacteria love to eat the undigested raffinose, a type of carbohydrate, provided by beans and other vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts and asparagus. Having well-nourished gut microbes invests in overall good health. A strong intake of prebiotics or bacteria food helps strengthen the immune system and optimizes wellness. In contrast, antibiotics kill the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.

More: How to Get Your Gut Health Back on Track